The Office of General Counsel issued the following opinion on December 14, 2006, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.
Re: Fire Insurance Fee and the Meaning of the Word "Churches"
Does the word "churches" as used in N.Y. Ins. Law § 9108(a) (McKinney 2000) refer to Christian houses of worship or any religious house of worship?
The word "churches" as used in N.Y. Ins. Law § 9108(a) is not limited to Christian houses of worship and encompasses other houses of worship including, but not limited to, synagogues and mosques.
No facts were given.
N.Y. Ins. Law § 9108(a), which pertains to the fire insurance fee, states that:
Every insurance company authorized to do business in this state shall collect, in addition to the applicable premium charge, a fire insurance fee, separately identified and charged to each policyholder, from each such holder of a policy issued in the state or for delivery in the state for coverage of peril of fire, excluding a policy for protection of household furnishings and/or policies issued to protect one or two-family residential structures, schools, churches and hospitals.
The New York Insurance Law, the General Construction Law, and the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law do not define the word "churches." However, to limit the definition of "churches" solely to mean Christian houses of worship would violate N.Y. Const. art. I, § 3 (amended 2001), which states, in pertinent part, that:
The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind
Therefore, as applied to N.Y. Ins. Law § 9108(a), "churches" is not limited to Christian houses of worship and encompasses other houses of worship including, but not limited to, synagogues and mosques. The inquirer was referred to the Internal Revenue Services "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations" (2006),1 which lists the certain characteristics generally attributable to churches, for determining whether a particular house of worship qualifies as a church.
For further information you may contact Associate Attorney Pascale Jean-Baptiste at the New York City Office.